The District Sentinel, February 28 2015
STATE DEPT. RULES OUT IRAN “SECRET NUCLEAR FACILITY” LAVIZAN-3 ALLEGATIONS PUSHED BY CONGRESSMEN–CLAIMS APPEAR FABRICATED BY M.E.K.
The State Department said Friday that controversial claims made earlier this week by a often-criticized dissident group about a “secret nuclear facility” in Iran will not affect ongoing multilateral negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The allegations–established about a facility called “Lavizan-3” by a group tied to the Mujahhedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an organization that used to be considered terrorists by the US government–were definitively called baseless by the State Department, days after Congressmen grilled Secretary of State John Kerry about the accusations.
“We have seen these claims and while we take all such reports seriously, we do not believe that this allegation has merit or that it impacts our ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program,” a State Department official told The Sentinel.
“We have examined the report and have no information to support the conclusion reached by the group that made the allegations,” the official added, noting that the multilateral nuclear negotiations involving Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council “are taking into account the possible pathways to enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, and a comprehensive agreement will address those pathways.”
Yesterday, when questioned by reporters about the MEK claims, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that department officials didn’t “have any information at this time to support the conclusion of the report,” but didn’t directly answer a question about whether or not it was “inaccurate.”
The State Department also said that it has “a robust team of experts across the US government” examining Iran’s nuclear program who are involved in the so-called P5+1 negotiations.
A “robust team of experts,” however, was not needed to cast doubts on the allegations that were made by the MEK-tied National Council of Resistance of Iran. They seem to have been fabricated in the most casual of manners.
Shortly after its report was made public on Tuesday, a Daily Kos blogger with the pseudonym “Florida Democrat” pointed out how a simple reverse image search showed that what the NCRI claimed was an “image of one of the shielding doors at Lavizan-3 installed at an underground hall” appeared to be a photograph lifted from an Iranian safe company’s website.
“I first became suspicious when I read the original report and saw the picture. They said this was for ‘radiation,’” the blogger wrote, referring to a “steel door” mentioned in The Washington Post’s coverage of the allegations. “But why would a radiation resistant door be made out of stainless steel? Shouldn’t it be covered completely by lead?”
On Wednesday, at a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing, at least one Congressman accepted the allegations as being true and another stated they had merit. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that “our friends in the MEK” had tipped us off and asked Secretary Kerry if “the Mullah regime” informed US negotiators “about the existence of this nuclear facility.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) meanwhile, said that “the MEK sometimes gives us accurate information” and asked Kerry about International Atomic Energy Agency inspections in the context of Lavizan-3.
Kerry disagreed with Rohrabacher’s characterization of Lavizan-3 as a “nuclear facility,” saying its status “is yet to be determined” and that “these things are going to have to be resolved as we go forward.” He told Sherman that “we’re well aware of the allegations regarding that facility” and said “any questions would have to be answered to have any kind of an agreement.”
Those questions, for now, appear to have been answered by Kerry’s charges.
The offices of Reps. Rohrabacher and Sherman did not respond to requests for comment about evidence that the MEK report included fabrications.
The NCRI, however, issued a 9-point statement denouncing “an article written by an unidentified individual [that] claimed that the image of the 40 cm thick and radiation-proof doors of the four-hall underground Lavizan-3 site…was fabricated and was actually taken from the website of a company in Iran called Ganjineh Mehr Pars (GMP).”
“At the news conference on Tuesday, the NCRI showed the image of the door and identified it as one of the doors that had been installed at one of the underground halls at Lavizan-3 site,” the statement said. “The NCRI, through its sources within Iran, was fully aware that these doors had been built by GMP Company for the purpose of being installed at Lavizan-3.”
As The Sentinel noted in its report on the Wednesday hearing, the MEK was listed as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) between 1997 and 2012 by the State Department. The group was removed from the FTO list after it launched a thorough lobbying campaign that gained the support of many prominent former officials, including ex-Vermont Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, and former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
It rose to prominence in Washington after hawkish officials sought to export Iraq War-style regime change to Tehran. A Fox News report on a 2005 Congressional push to foment instability in Iran said the move involving the MEK was similar to “US support of exiles like Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress.”
The MEK had previously figured in US-engineered regime change plans, albeit in a very different way. Before launching its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration said that Baghdad should be attacked, in part, for sheltering the MEK, as journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out in 2012.
The group has found an ability to bend ears in Washington due to accurate public claims it made in 2002 about covert Iranian uranium enrichment—allegations based on information provided to the group by Israeli intelligence officials, according to New Yorker journalist Sy Hersh, who spoke to then-IAEA Director General Mohammed El-Baradei.
In recent years, the State Department has played down MEK assessments about Iran’s nuclear program. In 2010, in response to claims made by the group about a supposed nuclear facility in Qazvin, then-State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley said that “the MEK has made pronouncements about Iranian facilities in the past–some accurate, some not.”